Kevin Larsen scored 18 points, Patricio Garino added another 14, and the George Washington men’s basketball team capped off the winningest season in program history with a 76-60 victory over Valparaiso to win the National Invitation Tournament championship Thursday.
It is GW’s first postseason title. The Colonials (28-10) also set a program record for wins in a season, eclipsing the previous mark of 27 set by the 2005-06 team.
GW used a 10-2 run to take a nine-point lead midway through the first half Thursday, but a 3-pointer by Valparaiso’s Alec Peters capped an 8-0 surge for the Crusaders and tied the score at 24-24 with 5:23 remaining. The teams exchanged baskets throughout the remainder of the half and GW led, 32-31, at the break.
The Colonials stretched the lead back to nine early in the second half, and went up by a dozen on a 3-pointer by Matt Hart with 12:26 left in regulation. Valparaiso never got within 10 the rest of the way.
Junior Tyler Cavanaugh, who scored 85 points and pulled down 39 rebounds in GW’s first four NIT games, was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. The junior forward had 12 points Thursday, one of four Colonials in double figures.
The night belonged to the seniors.
Playing in their final collegiate games, Garino, Larsen, and Joe McDonald (13 points) accounted for 45 of GW’s 76 points. The three 1,000-point scorers helped lead a renaissance during their four years in Foggy Bottom. The Colonials went 13-17 in 2012-13, and then won 20-plus games the past three seasons, reaching the NIT twice and the 2013-14 NCAA tournament.
“We’re champions,” said Laresen. “You can’t leave on a better note than that.”
Graduate student Alex Mitola also played his final game for GW on Thursday. His running jumper in the closing seconds lifted the Colonials to a win over Hofstra in the opening round of the NIT last week.
The championship caps a season that began with lofty expectations in Foggy Bottom. The Colonials defeated Virginia—then ranked sixth in the country—in November in the opening game of ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon. It was GW’s biggest upset win in 20 years and launched the team to a 10-1 start to the season. The Colonials went 11-7 in Atlantic 10 play, and an 86-80 loss to St. Joseph’s in the A-10 tournament left them outside the NCAA tournament picture on Selection Sunday.
But they rallied, defeating Hofstra, Monmouth, and Florida to reach the NIT semifinals, and then dispatched San Diego State on Tuesday to advance to Thursday’s title game.